OPINION: But Mr. President, you forgot something important …

An ambulance drives to a pregnant woman during the coronavirus night curfew in Nairobi, Kenya ...
An ambulance drives to a pregnant woman during the coronavirus night curfew in Nairobi, Kenya June 19, 2020. Picture taken June 19, 2020. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

By Florence Machio

So we have all been treated to a flurry of clarifications after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s address to the nation on Saturday March 26, 2021 at 3pm.

I write this to seek clarification and to remind us all of what was forgotten or rather what has yet to be addressed.

So far transport has been sorted, the “haves and have-nots” will now travel with ease up until Monday outside of the five ‘disease infected counties’.

What is causing unease to me as a woman are several things that His Excellency perhaps forgot to mention or maybe the writer of the speech did not want to tire our president with a lengthy one.

After all, we were all waiting for him to finish with the pleasantries of “My fellow Kenyans” and get to the point.

Let me get to the point. The aforementioned counties will not have congregational worship and their curfew now ends at 8pm.

Now right there is my problem no.1. You see Mr. president, babies have this nuke of showing up in the middle of the night, I don’t know why that is so.

Just know that labour pains like to kick in at odd hours irrespective or should I say regardless of how prepared one is. Labour pains have no respect for curfews or lockdowns.

So while some of us have the luxury of calling our doctors and asking what next doc or getting an ambulance?

Most Kenyan women are likely to be caught up in the curfew and die in their homes in these said counties if there is no directive from your office that states exactly how movement shall be for mothers who are in labour.

This is the MOST important aspect you should have taken into consideration sir. If we learned anything from the last lockdown, is the fact that if we don’t plan we will lose mothers and that is something that should not happen under your watch.

Remember the First Lady’s rally of Beyond Zero? Yes that one. It is unacceptable for a Kenyan woman to die while bringing forth a citizen especially out of preventable causes.

On the same point Mr. President, you forgot to give us a directive for those who might face domestic violence in this lockdown.

Statistics from the last lockdown tell us that between January and June 2020, there was a 71% increase in Gender Based violence (GBV) .

We were hoping that we would have learnt to organize better by now learning from the first lockdown. Why such an increase in GBV cases during lockdowns you ask?

Well sir, many people have lost their livelihoods and this is likely to put a strain on families. While last year there were food rations and tax breaks, this particular lockdown has none of that…or might you and you government be having some interventions in the pipeline?

In the meantime, the effects of GBV are multi-pronged, mental illness as well as violence and tragically even death.

So Mr. president, there is more that you ought to address. How about a directive on mental health support and another one on ease of movement for those that are violated to seek police and medical services past curfew?

It is well known that such cases of domestic violence happen more in the dark and at home. Yes we have the 1195 toll free number to call, but how does a survivor move from point A to B to go to a police station or even seek medical help from gender violence recovery centers within the curfew hours?

Again, just for your information there is only one operational state run shelter for GBV in the country-in Makueni!

That means those in the 5 counties will rely on civil society run shelters..or God knows what else! This is a critical area that you missed out in your speech sir.

Having said that, there is that “small matter” of closing colleges or even leaving only the medical training colleges open. You see Mr. President, most students are reporting on the 31st and in different colleges across the country.

Will there be a special pass? For those that are now supposed to go home late ? Beyond the thank you for remembering to also open up road travel for the next few hours to allow them to get home.

This will help avert unwanted pregnancies and early marriages because just imagine a vulnerable young girl looking for a place to sleep in all these confusion!

Now your Excellency, I know the vaccine is here and you demonstrated leadership by personally taking the vaccine and also instructing the cabinet to do the same.

But Sir, there is a group of front line workers you must consider too. In the villages across the country, county governments will tell you they rely heavily on community health workers to support health seeking behaviour.

These are the engines of our health care systems in the villages. They should be in phase one of vaccination. They are the ones women run to when they are in labour. They accompany women to hospitals reassuring them and help save lives.

They support the under 5 vaccination uptake as well as family planning knowledge. These are your front line workers Mr. President. When you get to issuing passes of movement past curfew, do not forget them please.

I want to remind you sir that Kenya is the global co chair of the Generation Equality Forum in fact you are co chairing the GBV coalition. That means we should be leading from the front on matters GBV. Issue a directive concerning safe houses in the counties.

Women need a place they can escape since they won’t be able to travel outside the 5 counties and head upcountry to their parents homes in case they are in danger.

We have had cases of femicide in the past few weeks and this is a matter of national importance. Why? because 52%of your taxpayers are under threat from a society that has allowed gender insensitivity to go on in radio, political rallies etc.

Please lead this one from the front Mr. President. The women of this country look up to you for their safety.

Finally, Mr. President, as you draft this new directives that are extremely necessary, please do not forget to issue the circular to the National Police Service on how the disciplined forces ought to conduct themselves during this lockdown. This really is a major concern for all of us – trust me.

Florence Machio is a Gender/Child Rights Activist & Communications Expert.

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